CFP: [General] Melancholia as a Central European Discourse

full name / name of organization: 
Christina Wald

Melancholia as a Central European Discourse in English Literary and
Cultural History

An International Conference at the University of Augsburg, 25-28th June 2009
Organizers: Prof. Dr. Martin Middeke and Dr. Christina Wald

Why are all outstanding philosophers, politicians, writers, and artists

As the above-quoted passage â€" which had been ascribed to Aristotle for a
long time â€" shows, melancholia was regarded more than an illness already in
ancient times. In 350 B.C., it is understood as an epiphenomenon of, or
even as a prerequisite for, outstanding cultural and political achievements
and deep philosophical insight. In its age-old history, melancholia has
maintained such complex denotation. While medical and psychological
discourses tried to examine and define the phenomenon in terms of
pathology, melancholia, at the same time, served as a versatile cultural
trope. Concerning the history of medicine, melancholia developed from the
ancient and early modern definition based on humour theory regarding
melancholia as a surplus of bile, via Emil Kraepelin’s studies on dementia
praecox (later: schizophrenia) and Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical
definition of melancholia as repressed grief to today’s category of
The European cultural history of melancholia, however, also covers its
nobilitation as a state which opens up an avenue to deeper insight and
judiciousness, emblematically captured in Alfred Dürer’s engraving
Melencolia I. In this context, melancholia has been linked to discourses of
genius in German and English Romanticism, and, recently, has been
associated with the postcolonial heritage of European imperialism in
studies like Anne Anlin Cheng’s The Melancholy of Race (2000) and Paul
Gilroy’s After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture? (2004) as well as
Postcolonial Melancholia (2005).
In view of recent discourses centring on melancholia, the relation between
melancholia and postmodernism is much-disputed: Is a postmodern relishing
in difference and playfulness tantamount to an end of (modernist?)
melancholia, or is the present ‘popularity’ of melancholia an indicator for
the return of emotion and, quite literally, postmodernism upon the wane?
Besides psychological, social, postcolonial, and aesthetic phenomena,
melancholia also shapes discourses on the much-debated relation between sex
and sexuality in western societies. Melancholia has most often been
understood as an inherently masculine phenomenon â€" as far as it was
connoted positively. Therefore, melancholia is of interest for Gender
Studies in two respects: first, as a historic phenomenon that grants
insight into the differentiation and hierarchy of the sexes, and second, as
an analytical category derived from psychoanalysis, through which the
establishment and maintenance of gender identity can be comprehended.
Melancholia has recently advanced to an important concept in
poststructuralist Gender and Queer Studies. When, for example, Judith
Butler conceptualizes the body as a product of a melancholic incorporation,
she pleads for a radically new interpretation of ‘melancholic anatomy’
about four hundred years after Robert Burton’s epoch-making Anatomy of
The conference, which interlinks with the central concern of the newly
established Centre of Excellence at Augsburg university, “Europe: Culture,
Education, and Religion between Regionalisation and Globalisation”, aims at
throwing a new light on the history of melancholia, with regard to its
thematic as well as formal-aesthetical consequences. It particularly
intends to examine the interaction between the discourses of medicine,
psychiatry, psychoanalysis, literature, art, and philosophy in terms of a
European cultural history and its non-European, global connections and
effects. To limit the subject to a manageable size, English literature, the
cultural space of Great Britain, and its expansion through colonization,
migration and knowledge transfer shall serve as examples to examine
European discourses.
We invite contributions to the following fields:
(1) How were the European norms of psychic health and illness inherent in
definitions of melancholia received and resignified in non-European,
transatlantic cultures?
(2) Which regional as well as historical differences between concepts of
melancholia existed within the ‘mother country’ England or Great Britain?
The cultural encoding of melancholia as a mental state of higher creativity
und deeper insight refers already to melancholia’s relevance for issues of
culture and education. Here, questions are raised about the way of artists’
self-fashioning as melancholics and the regional as well as historical
differences between, for instance, the melancholic craze in Elizabethan
England and the characterization of Romantic poets as melancholics, both by
themselves and by others.
(3) Can we assume, from a historical perspective, that a wave movement
existed, that melancholia was torn between carrying a positive connotation
as a creative state of mind (in the English Renaissance and particularly in
Romanticism) and being stigmatized as a mental illness (for instance, in
the neo-classical 18th century)?
(4) In addition to culture and education, religion kept playing a central
role in the cultural discussion of melancholia. The concept of ‘religious
melancholia’ includes a large number of psychosomatic symptoms in the
England of the 17th and 18th centuries that carry, due to the religious
wars in Europe, also political meanings. We would like to discuss whether
and to what extent the current, intensely debated tendencies in postmodern,
European societies towards a return to religion â€" or at least towards a re-
or neo-spiritualizing of a formerly completely secularized way of life â€"
can be compared to those historic precursors.

The above-raised questions shall be examined systematically in thematically
focused panels. Scheduled panels include:

I. Melancholia and Gender
II. Melancholia and Genius
III. Melancholia and Temporality
IV. Melancholia and Religion
V. Melancholia and Mourning
VI. Melancholia, Politics, and Society
VII. Melancholia and (Post-)Colonial Discourse
VIII. Melancholia and (Post-)Modernism

Each selected paper will be allotted a 40 minutes slot and should allow for
10 minutes of discussion. Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be
submitted with a short CV either electronically in the body of an email or
as an attachment in .doc or .pdf file format.

by June 1, 2008 to

Prof. Dr. phil. Martin Middeke
Dr. Christina Wald
Lehrstuhl für Englische Literaturwissenschaft
Universität Augsburg
Philologisch-Historische Fakultät
Universitätsstraße 10
86159 Augsburg
Tel. +49 821 598 2746 (-2611)
Fax +49 821 598 5638

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Received on Thu Mar 27 2008 - 12:19:00 EST